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On Evaluating Awards

by Victor Madeja

Webmaster's Introduction:
It is sometimes heard that 'so-an-so should have received the Silver Star at such-and-such battle'. Without question, there were all too many situations where better recognitions of meritorious service should have happened. In the following short article, Victor Madeja clarifies the reasons; it's a good explanation for a not-so-good situation.

... The idea of using awards as a measure of unit heroism is flawed. There must be competent staffs to process the awards through the system. The more ideal units had more spare time to generate such paperwork, while busy staffs had other priorities. The same applies to the quality of the officer chain of command. Veteran units often operated with great shortages of officers and non-coms.

Newer officers often didn't have a quick procedure for submitting awards and some were killed or injured before recording what deeds they had witnessed. It doesn't take much argument to show that soldiers with the poorer leadership (for whatever reason) often had to be greater heroes. They had to fight their own system as well as the enemy. ...

In measuring heroism, there should be recognition of the quality of the opponent. Some of the enemy combat units encountered by the Americans as they drove into Germany, consisted of old men and boys. While stray bullets kill as well as those well-aimed, units with low cohesion or poor teamwork launched less accurate bullets and posed less risk.

Finally, to be nominated for the higher decorations someone must have witnessed the event. The bravest battles often left no survivors. Those Americans who encountered the highest quality German troops often didn't live to write about it.

Ultimately an extraordinary number of young Americans showed that they were willing to risk their lives for this country. Don't listen to the sociological nonsense that they were mainly a "band of brothers" fighting to save their own skins or for some nebulous idea of group cohesion. Brave soldiers died facedown in the mud for values that all too many civilians will never understand.

No, it's not like a Football Game. They didn't come to the field for money and weren't risking their lives for another goal. Capra's Why We Fight movies are worth a look for those who want to know what brought these kids to war. Patriotism is still a good word.

For a true measure of the heroism of these boys (many of them were still in their teens), just look at the casualty numbers again and remember the total only includes the combat losses. The non-combat medical losses were sometimes greater than those in battle. In other words most of the older divisions lost over 100% of their original number. In the infantry the turnover was several times as high.

Many of those who went into war fully understood that they might be called upon to demonstrate the last full measure of devotion. Many did.

True heroism should be measured by the adversity of the circumstances, and those who died because of poor leadership and inadequate training deserve as much respect as those who served in elite headquarters that made fewer mistakes. Be cautious when making judgement about ribbons.

Source: U.S. Army Order of Battle: Mediterranean and Europe, 1942-1945. by W. Victor Madeja. Copyright © 2000 Victor Madeja. Published by Valor Publishing, Allentown PA. ISBN 0-941052-26-5.

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